By Father Casey
This past week I came across an article in The Atlantic titled, “By Now, Burnout Is a Given.” It is written by Dr. Lucy McBride, a physician who has observed the spiking rates of exhaustion, anxiety, and depression in our society in the last year. It is a sobering read, but I commend it to you, because it may sound terribly familiar. Based on the statistics, nearly half of us are now dealing with anxiety and depression – four times the pre-pandemic rate – and nearly a quarter of parents surveyed have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since last February. Dr. McBride writes,
“Americans were flirting with symptoms of burnout well before the pandemic. The combination of hustle culture, toxic stress, and poor access to affordable health care conspired to make Americans among the least healthy populations in wealthy countries. Diseases of despair—including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction—were already rampant. Living through COVID-19 brought the simmering pot to a boil. By stripping our emotional reserves even further, the pandemic has laid bare our unique vulnerabilities—whether medical, social, emotional, occupational, or logistical.”
If this sounds familiar, I want to say to you that you are not alone. You are not weak. You did nothing wrong, nor did you deserve it. You may have been quite healthy in every measurable way before the pandemic, and still find yourself now battling the effects of stress on your life. We may finally need to admit that we are part of the global throng who are carrying soul-deep weariness, a sort of exhaustion that won’t go away with a good night’s sleep or an afternoon by the pool.
If your soul is weak and weary, if you are teetering on the brink of burnout, or perhaps have already entered that difficult valley, I pray that God will give you the grace to seek the help you need. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking the support of a therapist or counselor. There is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting to your doctor that you don’t feel like you used to, and you can’t seem to find your way back. There is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting you’ve become a victim of the pandemic, even if you never contracted COVID.
And there is definitely nothing wrong with crying out to God from that pit and asking for help. This weekend we’ll hear the gospel story of the desperation of the crowds who came to Jesus for help. Mark says they “were like sheep without a shepherd,” and when he saw them, Jesus immediately had compassion for them. Compassion, as in suffering with them. He began to radiate divine mercy, so much so that all they had to do was touch the fringe of his cloak and his healing power flowed into them.
The yearning of the crowds in their desperation is captured beautifully in the language of the collect we’ll pray this weekend: “Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask.” Give us what we need, God, even when, in our weakness and malaise we can’t find the words to utter to you. Have mercy upon us even then.
As we pray for holy balm for our burned out souls, and as we seek the support of trained professionals to help us, we should also take seriously Jesus’ command to his disciples when he saw their exhaustion. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Because the recipe for soulful restoration always begins with rest.
Set down the to-dos.
Turn off the device(s).
Cease the doom scrolling.
And instead, find a place where you can take deep breaths, look at something lovely, and share with Jesus about how much of a lost sheep you are. Then, as you sit in that soul quiet, empty and open, and reach out in your spirit to touch the hem of his cloak, you will feel his compassion radiating from his infinite heart to replenish yours.